Exploring love, duty and honesty in 1955 - with a whiff of scandal.

 (Acorn Media Int'l)

 Robson Green is a brand. He typifies UK Sunday evening entertainment – an easy-going mix of romance, crime and mystery, with just a little bit of grit.

 He also bounces well off co-leads and does this brilliantly in Grantchester.

The series (strapline ‘Faith. Love. Murder.’) centres on a young vicar in love with a (soon-to-be) divorcee. There’s a whiff of scandal – this is 1955 – but it’s also scandalous that he spends so little time with his parishioners and so much time hanging around the police station, trying to solve crimes. No desk sergeants help out at funerals or doing pastoral visits in return.

While each episode deals with a serious crime, the overarching storyline deals with relationships: vicar Sidney’s (James Norton) with Amanda (Morven Christie) and her baby; Green’s detective Geordie Keating, who is having an affair; the housekeeper Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) whose husband has been missing for a decade, and gay curate Leonard (Al Weaver).

As this is the third series (with a Christmas special thrown in) the actors are now very comfortable in their characters (although Weaver rarely loses his rabbit-in-headlights look and Peake-Jones is only now being permitted to smile). The production team has been keen to give these characters fuller back-stories, paying particularly attention to the depth of the female characters, which deepens the realism.

That each of the deleted scenes seems to offer extra insight into the stories suggests that the script has been packed with detail – and with only an hour per episode, that is both essential and tricky to attain.

So, despite all this, why do I find much of the series hard to believe?

Firstly, the vicar’s lines are generally light and trite. His sermons are more about being ‘true to yourself’ than about being Christian, and this faith illiteracy seriously undermines what could otherwise be a decent drama. The BBC comedy Rev had the sense to research its plots with real vicars and it’s almost more convincing than this drama.

Secondly, this series aims to explore love and duty, and be real. There is a lot of trading morals between the detective and priest, who can be completely straight with one another. But while this is a worthy dramatic aim, the series tries to impose a 21st century mindset on a 1950s setting. Yes, people were the same 60 years ago, but their conversations sounded different, and at points, the series tries to re-write history (were there really black archdeacons in the English shires in 1955?). Until I saw the bonus features, I thought that it was written by thirty year-olds, unaware of 20th century culture.

Surprisingly, it is the final episode that comes good. Despite the danger of conveniently tidying up loose ends (and some are wisely left loose), there is much more realism here and it is a very enjoyable hour.

The bonus features comprise the typical “what a lovely series to work on” back-slapping approach to ‘behind the scenes’, but the seamless green-screen-to-actual show scenes are impressive and the deleted scenes are well worthwhile.

Derek Walker